Legal bodies slam lawyer harassment in Myanmar

The Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association have called for unlawfully detained lawyers and judges to be freed

Legal bodies slam lawyer harassment in Myanmar

The Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association have slammed the harsh treatment of lawyers and judges by Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, following the coup d’état in the Southeast Asian nation on 1 February.

In the joint statement, the two legal bodies said that they “strongly condemn the ongoing intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention” of lawyers who filed legitimate cases considered “undesirable” by the Tatmadaw, as well as the dismissal without valid cause of and illegal detention of judges across all levels of court in Myanmar. 

Since the coup, over 3,000 have been arrested and more than 500 killed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). 

“We express our solidarity with the lawyers and judges of Myanmar seeking to uphold the rule of law, defend the rights of Myanmar’s people, and maintain Myanmar’s hard-fought progress in building accountable, effective democratic and justice institutions,” the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association said.

The legal bodies also said that they were throwing their support behind the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar for its “courageous and principled advocacy to enhance the rule of law, access to justice, and the protection of human rights in Myanmar.”

The Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association pointed out that military influence over civilian court proceedings has further crippled what they said is an already fragile justice system undermined by “a lack of judicial independence,” rampant corruption, and basic fair trial rights breaches – notably the right to independent counsel. Myanmar was also flouting its obligation to “to respect, protect and fulfil the rights to life, liberty and security of person, the right to a fair trial, and the right to not be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

The recent developments also breached the fundamental guarantees set out in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

“The Basic Principles require Myanmar’s authorities to ensure that lawyers may perform their professional functions without intimidation, harassment or improper interference; and are not subjected to or threatened with prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for performing their professional duties,” the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association said.

Like all lawyers, practitioners in Myanmar are entitled to confidential communication with clients and access to necessary information in the provision of legal services. They are also entitled to “freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly, and have a right to participate in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights,” the organisations said.

The military’s treatment of members of the legal profession represented what the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association called a “deliberate and coordinated effort by the Tatmadaw to impede Myanmar’s lawyers from undertaking professional duties at a time when the rule of law is under unprecedented assault.”

The bodies called for the military government in Myanmar to take the following action steps:

  • immediately release all lawyers, judges and others detained unlawfully
  • take immediate, meaningful steps to enable lawyers to carry out their professional duties safely and independently, and protect them against intimidation, threats and reprisals
  • guarantee to all persons due process rights in accordance with the rule of law, particularly the right to effective access to independent, competent legal assistance at all stages of the criminal process

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